athens: devoured by the euro

Posted on April 6, 2006


greek taverna.jpg

photo via kalabird

by melinda elliott

If you ask most Greeks what they feel about the economy, they usually respond with Το Ευρό μας έχει φαει. Literally translated it means “The Euro has eaten us”. Idiomatically speaking, they’re saying that the Euro destroyed us.

They see their disposable income slipping away and blame it on the replacement of the drachma with the Euro currency in Greece in January, 2002.

When Greece changed from the drachma to the Euro, it seemed that literally, overnight, prices went through the roof.

Coffees which used to cost 800 drachmas (2.35€) now cost me 4€ at the same café.
Greek salads at the local taverna used to cost 1500 dr. (4.40€) are now 6€.
I pulled out an old souvlaki menu to make a take-out order where all the prices were in drachmas. It was immediately obvious that most of the prices increased by 25% or more on each item listed on the new menu. Just since September, I saw the price of my usual brand of olive oil increase from 4.25€ to 5.98€.

Some of the fluctuation in prices can be attributed to the droughts or floods across Europe. The war in Iraq is also to blame for increased costs on other items…especially petrol. I’m not an economist but I certainly don’t believe that inclement weather, the bird flu, normal currency fluctuations and the invasion of Iraq is directly responsible for the rapid and phenomenally high price increases on every single thing we purchase. I believe much of it was due to profiteering and people just not understanding the value of the new currency.

It was common to give 100 drachmas (0.29€) for a tip to a delivery person. Just try getting away with giving them a 30 cent tip these days! Even the beggars will frown if you give them anything less than a euro. The days of ” ενα εικοσάρικο σε παρακαλώ” (100 drachmas, please) are long gone. Now, it’s ‘ένα ευρό σε παρακαλώ” (a euro please).

The Greek Consumer Centre reports that Greek opinion is justified. The prices of many things have increased from 20% to a whopping 147% since the country changed to the Euro in 2002. Unfortunately, the salaries have only increased, on average, by 12%. And even that’s debatable. I don’t know many people who have received a 12% pay increase. Either way, any increase given is hardly enough to compensate for the exorbitant costs of everything else we purchase.

Back in 2002, the Ministry of Development assured us that the “worst is over.” Four years and 147% price hikes later, I think it’s safe to assume that Ministry of Development is just as clueless now as it was then.